Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why I Oppose the "War on Terror"

Merely to resist evil with evil by hating those who hate us and seeking to destroy them, is actually no resistance at all. It is active and purposeful collaboration in evil that brings the Christian into direct and intimate contact with the same source of evil and hatred which inspires the acts of his enemy. It leads in practice to a denial of Christ and to the service of hatred rather than love.

- Thomas Merton
from Passion For Peace

* Hat tip: Sojourner's


Gino said...

the same God also instructed his people to vanquish without mercy those nations who opposed them.

the matter here, is context.

nations must fight their enemies, but hating, individually, the members of the enemy nation is uncalled for.

i oppose the 'war on terror' as well, because it doesnt define the enemy adequately, but i do not oppose the war generally.

those who seek to blow things up and kill americans must be killed. it is one of the few legitimate roles of govt.

but to oppose war for the sake of pacifism, and then dressing it up with the flowery prose of christianity makes a mockery of the God who ordered other non-pacifist actions in defense of his nation in the old testament.

Yahweh is not a pacifist.

kr said...

and neither, really, is Jesus.

That said, Andy, Yes Yes Yes. The minute we lose track of thinking of another person (any other person) as fully as human as ourselves, we fall into evil ... and choosing to Hate, ever, is an active participation in evil--an act of vicious personal violence.

Gino, you know that I also am not against war as a concept; I generally agree with your response to Andy. However, your construction is incorrect on a key point: "those who seek to blow things up and kill americans must be killed" is more properly, "those who seek to hurt or kill others should be stopped" (and I recognize that sometimes the only reasonable way to stop someone is to kill them).

I am glad to see humanity moving towards being unaccepting of killing and violence. I think letting go of hatred and fear is prerequisite for peace and just action, and I think as long as we haven't done that initial work, the killing and violence won't stop. Even if we rein in overt physical versions, people who hate or fear will still wreak violence.

DJRainDog said...

Some good points, both Gino & KR, but I've got a question for you (perhaps both). Gino wrote, "the same God also instructed his people to vanquish without mercy those nations who opposed them." You believe that? I mean, yes, I know, it occurs repeatedly in the OT/HB, and I know that my beloved prophets speak of the anger of God against His people, BUT you actually believe that He handed down the edict, rather than that's just the way the writers of history expressed their understanding of the circumstances at hand? I won't vilify you for saying "yes", of course, but I think it's obvious from the question that I think that's crap, as is a great deal of the perspective of the writers of the OT/HB (and as are the brains of many fundamentalists).

Andy said...

I am with DJ (obviously). I think few things in the Bible are more explicit and less gray than Jesus saying things like,""You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." We can't throw out the OT, of course, because Jesus refers approvingly to lots of it. But we have to pay attention to the specific places where he says, essentially, "What you have been taught is WRONG." Jesus came to correct a flawed vision of God. I don't think I'm a "pacifist," I think I'm a realist. Violence begets violence. Anger makes anger. The only way to stop the cycle is to grow the balls necessary to stop this foolishness. War and violence are the tools of moral cowards. Fighting isn't brave; compassion and forgiveness are brave.

Andy said...

I'm not talking about the soliders, obviously, who are there in good faith doing what they are duty-bound to do. I'm talking about the people who put them there who should know better, and the people who support the folly, people who are so disabled by irrational fear that they genuinely worry that America will become an Islamist state.

You can argue (well, I think) that we can love and forgive enemies and still have a right and responsibility to protect ourselves. There's a whole just war doctrine out there. But there isn't a just war scholar who thinks what we're doing right now comes anywhere close to justice.

It reminds me of a woman on 60 Minutes this week whose sister was murdered many years ago, a crime for which the killer was sentenced to death. The murderer, however, has been determined to be insane and therefore cannot legally be executed. The sister said (I paraphrase) that as a Christian she feels obligated to forgive him, but she wants him to die. Well, you know...I don't think you can have it both ways, I really don't. If you're dropping bombs on people, I'm going to remain unconvinced that this is an act of compassion.

Gino said...

waging war, especially in our nation that had a large % of the population in oposition, was NOT an act of cowardice.

in a democracy, war is the single most politically risky endeavor a leader can take.
political cowardice, on the other hand, is the most easily disquised in pacifist rhetoric of compassion etc...

who had the bigger pair: chamberlin or churchill?

sometimes the peacemakers are ones who are willing to do violence.
and yes, I agree: blessed are the peacemakers. even the gun carrying kind.
violence begets violence. ask the folks who did 9/11.
but violence is sometimes the best response to such violence.

i'm not being a warmonger. (libertarian thought is always skeptic when it come to waging war)
but i am a realist.

kr said...

DJR, frankly, I am of mixed mind about whether Yahweh-God told His people to go smash the other people. Since all the peoples understood deities so much more viscerally and literally then, God may have been speaking to all the peoples the only way they could understand from their context--clearly communicating that he was the One God and was (All-)Powerful. But it doesn't make a lot of sense--to human thinking. Perhaps the cultures that were there were so theologically misguided that they wouldn't listen to a correction without a wallop attached. I don't know. (This is partly from my feminist studies ... reconciling a Judeo-Christian worldview with the apparent destruction of feminine-centered societies by my theological forefathers is on a long mental-percolation cycle. That "my" God at least allowed and perhaps incited that destruction, I currently hold, may speak more about the societies than about God.)

Andy and any long-term readers here may remember that my basic stand on the Iraq action is that it could have been a just war, but it wasn't and isn't. That it isn't shouldn't be surprising, since it was based on lies and sold using fear. What I have learned, watching, is that it doesn't matter if the right reasons exist ... it matters whether you are really living and dying for them (and not for other reasons).

Andy, Jesus, there, does a lot of talking about not acting out of hate. Physically preventing a person from causing physical harm to another--which type of restraint often ends up being somehwhat violent--is not inherently an act of hatred. It can be an act of love--even to the attacker. Stopping an abuser, for instance--gives them at least a chance to think about their actions, gives them a chance to choose otherwise ... gives them a chance to own more fully their humanity, and the humanity of the people around them.

As a parent, I often physically restrain a child from physically hurting one of the others. Sometimes if they are moving fast and I am moving fast, one or both of us gets injured in the process. But the attacked child doesn't deserve to get attacked, and the attacker needs to learn to expend their impulses less destructively.

Applied to the adult world, suicide bombers can maybe not be stopped from killing themselves ... but is it wrong to injure (or kill?) them when you attempt to minimize the damage they might cause?

In a barfight, if one solid punch will take down a belligerent drunk who is threatening people and starting to hurt people, is it wrong to take that punch? (For which one can receive prison time, nowadays.)

Someone in power sexually abuses children. Their power is such that they will not only not be prosecuted, they will likely abuse until they die. Someone garrots(?sp) them on a dark street. Wrong? Justifiable, I think.

Some problems aren't addressable without overt violence, yet. I hope we are as a species moving towards peace; I hope we are in the death throes of colonization and the resource wars. But too many people have not been taught to listen and hear, and only "hear" physical input ... and stopping them means violence.

I took up this argument not from an Iraq-specific standpoint, but rather disagreeing that Christians must be pacifist. Which, ironically, I see now is not directly asserted in the quote, but rather I assumed it was your point from previous discussions.

Christians must focus on bringing peace and justice together ... forcing a peace is not, in my mind, just ... although with lots of prayer and committment from all parties, justice might be worked out from a forced peace.

Perhaps it's a personality thing, that I focus on justice first and peace as a derivative, and you seem to focus the other way 'round.

The Law Fairy said...

I personally can't get behind this or most (perhaps any) war(s). I think that where war becomes a "necessity" it is solely due to the failure of our leaders to avoid it. Every war is avoidable. It may take some ingenuity and creativity (yet another reason why we ought to demand the highest level of intelligence and thoughtfulness on the part of our leaders), and it almost definitely takes a heaping dose of humility. But it can be done.

As for the justice/peace issue, I guess I personally see them as intertwined, but not in the way you might think. I don't think peace equals justice, or that justice equals peace. I think that justice is in the process of living peace. I think that's the whole point of a lot of what Jesus taught -- the person who takes the higher road "wins" in a sense, even if he appears to others to be defeated. To make it a little more trite, doing good is its own reward.

I think that the goal of our justice system is a lot like what I described. "Justice" does not mean you have the right outcome, as much as we want to have the right outcome. Justice is obeying the process. Justice is ensuring equal respect, equal access, equal rights. If you have followed the process, then justice has been served, regardless of the outcome. I think this is something that's especially hard for Americans to accept, and it's also a big part of why the practice of law is so miserable -- lawyers are very outcome-focused, which can cause a lot of conflict with the ideals of justice (even though part of the justness of the process is earnest advocacy on both sides -- see how my existence is a paradox? ;)) In the US, we define success and goodness and happiness, etc., with accomplishment and achievement. Something is not worth doing unless you have something to show for it. This is OUTCOME-focused, and this isn't what justice or morality is about. That's also why war is always or almost always wrong. War is the failure of process, and therefore it is inherently a failure to do justice -- therefore, there is no just war.

I should probably proofread, but I haven't had my breakfast yet...

Gino said...

" "Justice" does not mean you have the right outcome, as much as we want to have the right outcome. Justice is obeying the process. Justice is ensuring equal respect, equal access, equal rights. If you have followed the process, then justice has been served, regardless of the outcome."

well said.
whether anybody thinks OJ was guilty or not, he got justice, and folks need to just let it go.
(this, and other cases)

this quote of yours stood out to me. dont know how many times i've tried to explain this to others, and i just cant get the point across.

Tim said...

blah arguing with Pacifists is a foolish task Gino. Ghandi himself chastised the jews in the ghettos for attacking the Nazi's and trying to breakout. He admonished them to throw themselves on the swords and die. With thinking like that there is no wonder why side cannot understand the other. To me attacking a violent person that beats his wife or children seems natural, to them it would be the height of barbarism. Regardless I know which society I want to live in. Plus as an added bonus I don't have to bend and fold my reasoning to try and match up with an ancient book in whose pages war is both heralded and degraded.

kr said...

LF-I agree with at least the general idea ,,, part of my problem with the "peace (in the Middle East)" goal is that it is so non-inclusive of the process necessary to really get there ... for those people to OWN the peace.

Now, in Japan and in Germany this imposed peace generally seems to have worked itself out ... but I would hardly say it was a natural outgrowth for either culture.

Interesting, to bring this full-circle, how not-well the Jews accepted the imposed Peace of Rome ...

Too many directions to go from here. Stopping now.

Andy said...

"Justice" does not mean you have the right outcome, as much as we want to have the right outcome. Justice is obeying the process.

HUH? So, if the process leads you to a flawed outcome, it's still justice?

The Law Fairy said...

Well, I think of it this way: I would rather do something the right way but not get what I want in the end, than do something the wrong way to get what I want.

So I guess in that sense, if justice has been done, the outcome *isn't* flawed, even if it might seem flawed to us. Kind of like the whole "all things work together for good" idea.

kr said...

Also, Andy, every human-created outcome will always be flawed. So whether an outcome is flawed or not is not really any kind of measure ... the degree of flawed usually reflects the degree of flawed that the process was (in the case of Iraq: massively), but flawed/not-flawed isn't really in play.

Anonymous said...

"sometimes the peacemakers are ones who are willing to do violence." WTF?!

Andy said...

Also, Andy, every human-created outcome will always be flawed.

Nice attitude. PS, I call bullshit on that one.

DJRainDog said...

Oh, come on, Andy. Really? It's NEVER going to be perfect. Not here, it isn't. Not while there are ass-hats like Bush and Cheney and Clinton and Obama and Edwards and Giuliani and Ensign and Petraeus and Rumsfeld and Ashcroft and that cunt who resigned today running things. Americans can and should demand better. (But even if we did, it'd still never be perfect. The philosophical definition of justice is impossible to achieve; giving everyone his/her due simply isn't possible.)

kr said...

Also, Andy, every human-created outcome will always be flawed.

Nice attitude. PS, I call bullshit on that one.

speaking of wtf ... wtf?

who died and made you God? last time I checked, humans were incapable (usually Very Incapable) of perfection

I wasn't bullshitting, I was serious

Andy said...

Yes, humanity screws up a lot. But to say that every human outcome will ALWAYS be flawed...I think that is profoundly in error. To me it reads like, "Why bother?" Especially in our context of debating whether to respond to violence or threats of violence with violence is just or "collaboration in evil," it is an irresponsible abdication of our moral duty to simply shrug and say, "We're never going to get it right." I decline to accept that argument.

The Law Fairy said...

Well, but Andy, what if the point isn't for *us* to change things? Yeah, maybe we can't really make a difference, maybe in some sense it is futile. Does that change our moral imperative to treat our fellow humans with dignity? Does that make it okay to ignore Christ's command to love God and love one another? Put differently, is the point of Christianity to change the world, or to change ourselves?

I'm not pretending to have the right answer, but I know what I have come to believe is the healthiest view for me personally. In a sense it's almost freeing to recognize our own human powerlessness, because that enables us to trust *God* to cause his will to be done, rather than placing the weight of the world on our own shoulders (which, being flawed, are unable to bear it). It's kind of like the difference between fundamentalist evangelicals and those who take a more moderated approach to evangelism. When I was growing up, I was made to think that I had some moral and spiritual responsibility to make sure that others converted. But that's ridiculous -- I have no control over what other people do. I have control only over what I do. And my purpose is to seek out what God wants, even if I don't understand and even if, from my perspective, it seems futile or useless.

Just my two cents' worth :)

Andy said...

is the point of Christianity to change the world, or to change ourselves?

Gandhi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Or, put another way, "Think globally, act locally." One of the important things we need to do on an individual basis is to stop finding excuses for violent behavior. I reiterate that to claim we can defeat an enemy by destroying him is a betrayal of Christ and a collaboration with evil.

Andy said...

Further, if the argument is that we can't change the world, only ourselves, that presupposes that violence is pointless.

The Law Fairy said...

Oh, I agree that violence is pointless. I guess my thinking is more just that, if we feel something is right, we need to do what is right even if we're not certain what it will lead to, and even if we don't see good things happen, say, within our lifetime. I'm not trying to be fatalistic so much as... I dunno... zen, I guess? :)

The Law Fairy said...

Er, to clarify, my point was never that war is okay, or that we shouldn't speak up against it. More just that if we, as a society, worried less about what others do and more about what we ourselves do, we'd probably have a lot less conflict.

kr said...

it is an irresponsible abdication of our moral duty to simply shrug and say, "We're never going to get it right."

not at all

it is absolutely our moral duty to get it as right as we can

but we have to acknowledge that we can't, because only God can--that is not an abdication, it is an acknowledgement of reality.

there is beauty and growth in the trying

I will now try to read the rest of the discussion before the infant wakes again, but probably won't have time for further replies, at least tonight.

kr said...

I reiterate that to claim we can defeat an enemy by destroying him is a betrayal of Christ and a collaboration with evil.

I never argued that

violence does not equal destruction

I would say "Christian" justice means you work to stop the evil and give the evil-doer(s) maximum chance to make un-evil choices. This construction clearly is "warpable" (applicable) to a variety of cultural contexts, and undoubtably far from "perfect" in its results, but it sets good goals and provides immediate process-measures.

We as a society need to teach people how to, without violence (physical or other), stop people from harming other people. Which would require figuring out how, first. Pacifism has a role in that.

But the change cannot happen overnight; God made us communally as well as individually developmental(, Mr. Is God Doing a New Thing).

Goal? good. Process? lacking.

And here we are, working on the process :).

Andy said...

I don't know whether it's because I accidentally had Catholic communion yesterday or what, but okay, now I see where you're going. I can live with that..

...though I would still take slight issue with but we have to acknowledge that we can't, because only God can. I think we can, with God's help. And I think it should be further added that part of why we keep screwing up is that Evil is real and constant and present in our lives and that Satan has found that his most effective tool is merely to confuse our moral compass, so that we feel confident we are doing God's work ("holy" war, for example) when we clearly are not.

kr said...


I think we can, with God's help ... hummmm

I suppose since we expect God's rule on earth to come (more than it is; theological exegesis here skipped), yes ... but up 'til that point, as we work toward that point, we should expect flaws ...

and yes, Satan is active and real ... but he has no traction except inasmuch as we are open to his blandishments ... literally no ability to force his way in ... it is still about our choices (see, I'm not shirking any moral responsibility ; ) )